Kremlin brushes aside Western calls to release Navalny

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, is escorted hand-cuffed after a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. A judge has ordered Alexei Navalny to be held in custody for 30 days, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter. The ruling Monday concluded an hours-long court hearing set up at a police precinct where the politician has been held since his arrest at a Moscow airport Sunday. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW – The Kremlin on Tuesday brushed aside calls from the West to release opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to Russia from Germany following treatment for poisoning with a nerve agent. Moscow called his case “an absolutely internal matter.”

Navalny blames his poisoning on President Vladimir Putin's government, which has denied it. The condemnations of his arrest and the calls from abroad for his release have added to the existing tensions between Russia and the West. Some European Union countries are suggesting more sanctions against Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “we can't and are not going to take these statements into account.”

“We are talking about a fact of noncompliance with the Russian law by a citizen of Russia. This is an absolutely internal matter and we will not allow anyone to interfere in it and do not intend to listen to such statements," Peskov said.

Navalny, 44, was detained Sunday evening at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after arriving from Berlin, where he was treated following the poisoning in August. On Monday, he was ordered to pre-trial detention for 30 days during a court hearing that was hastily set up in a police precinct where Navalny was being held.

Russia's prison service maintains that Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition figure and anti-corruption campaigner, violated the probation terms of his suspended sentence on a 2014 money-laundering conviction, which was deemed “arbitrary” by the European Court of Human Rights.

Officials are seeking to send Navalny to prison to serve the 3 1/2-year suspended sentence.

He has interpreted the crackdown against him as a sign of Putin's fear. Peskov dismissed suggestions that Putin was afraid of Navalny as “nonsense” and insisted that he had violated the law. The spokesman said the questions law enforcement had for Navalny “have nothing whatsoever to do with the Russian president.”